Photo: Iowa’s Michael Kemerer (left) and Michigan’s Logan Massa, who are ranked...
Steiner and Goodale named co-winners of 2019 Mike Chapman Impact Award
Photo: Troy Steiner (left) of Fresno State and Scott Goodale of Rutgers saw their programs once again rank in the top 10 in national dual attendance. Steiner is in just his second season at the California school while Goodale, who was also named WIN’s Dan Gable Coach of the Year, saw the Scarlet Knights earn their first two individual champs this past March.
By Mike Finn
When one examines the Top 10 NCAA Division I wrestling programs, in terms of average home dual-meet attendance, it is no surprise that the top four schools — Iowa, Penn State, Ohio State and Oklahoma State — have all won national team titles in the 21stcentury.
But there is something unique about the schools that finished fifth and ninth, respectively — Rutgers and Fresno State — in the data compiled by MatTalkOnline.com and Lehigh University Wrestling Newsletter for the 2018-19 season.
Rutgers actually placed higher in average attendance than in its record-setting ninth-place performance at the 2019 NCAAs. And Fresno State was a dead program four years ago.
And it’s also a reason that both head coaches were named co-winners of the Mike Chapman Impact Award.
“One of the best things you can say about a person is that he is ‘making a difference’. That’s certainly true with Scott Goodale and Troy Steiner,” said Chapman, the founder of WIN and the Dan Gable Wrestling Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, and author of over 30 books.
“As someone who has been involved in college wrestling for 50 years, both as a sportswriter and a fan, I love it when I see ‘new’ programs become a prominent force in the sport. Rutgers isn’t ‘new’ in terms of how long it’s been in existence but it’s new in the sense that it has become a top-10 program, both in performance and fan base. Scott Goodale has done a remarkable job there, and he is making a huge difference in New Jersey and on the national scene.
“And in just two years, Troy Steiner has done a terrific job of bringing interest back to a program that was dropped for a period of time. Fresno State is a breath of fresh air on the entire West Coast and has proven through its fan base that it can be a viable program again.
“I am proud to welcome Scott and Troy into the “Impact of the Year” club.”
Steiner, a former national champion at Iowa and long-time assistant coach at Oregon State, took over the Bulldog program in the summer of 2016; a decade after Fresno State announced it was dropping wrestling.
But in just Steiner’s second season after the year assembling the new program, the Bulldogs earned their 34th all-time All-American in 197-pound Josh Hokit this March, the first since 2003, and has been in the top 10 in attendance both years since the program restarted.
“We actually averaged more fans last year,” said Steiner, whose squad averaged nearly 2,500 fans per home dual this past winter and credits the Central Valley of California wrestling traditions for such interest.
“It’s had the ability to draw well just based on the Central Valley and how populated it is with wrestling,” Steiner said. “The Tirapelle (coaching family) at Clovis and Buchanan (high schools) and a town like Selma, which is very close (to Fresno), set the standard around here. People, who are part of those programs, expect to win.
“We have kids from those programs on the team and those expectations don’t change. Those kids, who are used to wrestling, want to continue to win.”
The local love for wrestling played a big part in Steiner agreeing to take on rebuilding the Bulldog program, which now competes in the Big 12 Conference.
“The (university) president (Dr. Joseph Castro) is the one who brought the program back,” said Steiner. “When I came down here to interview, I asked him, ‘Why are you bringing it back?’ There had never been a program in Division I that had been dropped and came back.
“He told me that when he got the job about seven years ago, that no matter where he went and spoke, the question that came up every time was, ‘When are you bringing wrestling back?’ It got to be a standing joke between him and his wife, like how long would it be before that question came up. People told him he was crazy to bring the program back so he kind of went against his administration to do it because he saw how much wrestling was ingrained in the community. He was the No. 1 guy I knew we had support from.”
Goodale, whose team drew over five thousand fans per home dual, also credits his administration for making Rutgers a wrestling school.
“Our athletic director is at every single national tournament and he was a basketball guy from Seton Hall,” said Goodale, who took over the program in 2007. He’s turned into a super fanatical wrestling fan.”
Goodale has other words of advice for programs trying to join the top tier in terms of growing a fan base.
“I would say, ‘Get involved in your state, wherever you are, and get to know every single high school, recreation and youth program in your state.
“Then try to build an incredible product; not just with the most talented wrestlers, but with the best kids, the high-character kids that everyone can look up to. You want to recruit kids that your entire fan base will be proud. It’s not so much about what they did in high school wrestling, but has so much character and wants to work really, really hard.”
Goodale also pointed out that programs should never rely on past success.
“Over the next 10 years, I’d like for us to be consistent,” he said. “It’s great to be a top-10 program, but it can’t be a one-year thing. Like anyone who makes money, they want to make more and we want to do more. Never stop and say, ‘Wow, look at what we’ve done.’ We have to say, ‘What’s the next step and how do we get better and continue to bring in more (New Jersey) residents and bring in the best guys; not only from the country, but from all over the world. For me, it’s not good enough where we are right now.”
Fresno State, which has had 14 Top-25 NCAA finishes and placed as high as eighth in 1993, knew all about past success before dropping its program.
Steiner now would like for other discontinued NCAA Division I programs to be brought back to life.
“That’s another reason I wanted to take the position,” Steiner said. “I felt we could help this sport; that if I could get this program heading back in the right direction over the next few years, I feel that other institutions, which dropped wrestling, will try to do the same thing.
“You have to use the things and people in your area and you have to give it some time. I didn’t do this by myself. We aren’t anywhere near where we want to be, but are going in the right direction.”
Steiner would also like to see the NCAA bring the national tournament to a West Coast location, something it has not done since 1976, when the University of Arizona — which also dropped its program — hosted the NCAAs.
“If the NCAA keeps doing what it has in by putting the national tournament in the East and Midwest, we are going to make wrestling a regional sport,” Steiner said. “I know that the national tournament is a money-maker for (the NCAA), but I believe the NCAAs are going to sell out no matter where it is.
“If you put it out West, here in California or up in Oregon or Washington or in Arizona, people will come because they don’t normally get that opportunity. If we really want to keep wrestling growing, let’s put it in areas that will help grow the sport.”
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